Many employees and their employers in British Columbia have been at odds about the need for accommodations due to circumstances brought about by the pandemic. A recent Ontario Human Rights Tribunal case involving an employee’s request for accommodation for childcare as a result of COVID-19 issues shows the importance of employees justifying their requests and employers giving the requests serious consideration.
Reason for accommodation request
In that case, a husband and wife with three young children were both employed by the same company. Lockdown and social distancing requirements arising from COVID-19 necessitated changes to their parenting plans, which included care for the ailing parents of the wife. The husband, who worked the day shift, requested to leave work early to get home and allow his wife to report for evening duty. The employer provided accommodation, and all worked well until a new manager was appointed.
Refusal of request for accommodation
The new manager was only willing to allow employees to leave early twice per month, and then only after giving 48 hours’ notice. The husband continued leaving early to ensure his children would not be without care. However, after progressive disciplinary steps, he was dismissed within weeks of the manager’s refusal to consider the accommodation request. Subsequently, the husband filed a claim with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal alleging human rights violations.
In this case, the Human Rights Tribunal found that the manager failed to consider whether the requested accommodation would bring the company undue hardship, even though the employee provided reasonable evidence to show the need for accommodation. The tribunal ultimately awarded the employee lost wages and general damages totalling almost $50,000.
Employers nationwide, including in British Columbia, may not reject reasonable accommodation requests out of hand without justifying the decision. The law of family status accommodation is complex and highly context-dependent, and the applicable legal tests differ between provinces. Employers and employees who need advice regarding family status accommodation should contact an employment lawyer at an early stage to make sure that their rights are protected.